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Topic 003 - Trav's NetHack Shoplifting Primer


This miniature strategy guide (SPOILER ALERT) uses shoplifting tactics to help illustrate NetHack's gameplaying depth.

Here are the different ways to rob shops (in descending order of safety):

1. Locating a shop
2. Using your pet as an accomplice
3. Teleporting out of the shop
4. Digging your way out
5. Neutralizing the shopkeeper
6. Other ways

1. Locating a Shop

In NetHack, shops at scattered randomly throughout the dungeon rather than being located on "ground" level as in Angband or ADOM.  The first step to shoplifting is therefore locating a shop.

Where can shops appear?

  • About 1/5 of the dungeon levels contains shops.
  • Shops never appear on dungeon level 1.
  • Shops never appear in the Gnomish mines.
  • Town levels contain multiple shops (usually around 4).
  • Towns appear on roughly 1/20 of the levels, starting around level 5.

How do you know if you're on a shop level?

  • Sometimes you will hear "you hear someone cursing shoplifters."
  • Shops are usually located near the sides of the map (as opposed to the center).

2. Using your pet as an accomplice

NetHack lets you have pets.  Unlike in many Roguelike games, pets can follow you to different levels and gain experience.  Pet acquisition and management is certainly worth a topic in itself.

Once you have a pet, robbing the shop is pretty easy, but requires patience:

  • Wait for your pet to walk into the shop.
  • Move into the doorway, trapping your pet inside the shop.
  • Do not actually enter the shop.
  • Occasionally your pet will pick up an item, carry it around for a while, and then drop it.
  • If your pet drops an item right in front of you*, step inside the door and pick it up.
  • Return to your spot in the doorway.  Voila!  Free stuff!

* You can "tame" your pet by feeding it often.  The more tame it is, the more likely it is to drop food at your feet.  There are NetHack spoilers out there that give all the gory pet-taming details.  I plan to delve futher into this in a later topic.

The main advantage of using pets to rob shops is that it's very safe; shopkeepers won't get mad at you, keystone cops won't pop up all over the place, you never risk teleporting into a mob of monsters, and if you get bored waiting for your pet you can also take a break for a while and come back later.  Also, pets never pick up cursed items.

3. Teleporting out of the shop

If you don't have a pet or the patience to use him, then you might want to think about using teleportation to escape from a shop.

Escaping from shops is risky because it causes Keystone Kops to appear and chase after you.  Also, the Shopkeeper will get mad and might chase you down.  Shopkeepers and viscious; they are very hard to kill.  As soon as you escape a shop, you should try to exit that dungeon level as soon as possible.   For that reason, you should explore and clear the rest of level before you rob the shop.

To escape using teleportation, you first need to acquire the ability to teleport.

  • You can find an item of teleportation.   Potential teleportation items include scrolls, rings, amulets, wands, and maybe some others that I've forgotten.
  • If your character is intelligent and high level, you can learn the spell of teleportation by reading a teleportation spellbook.
  • You can acquire teleportation sickness by killing and eating a leprechaun or nymph. [Yes, this is kind of gross; the NetHack is vegetarian-unfriendly; but eating dead monsters is part of NetHack's fun!] Teleportation sickness causes you to teleport every few hundred turns. This can be annoying and dangerous at times, but it can also save your life if you're getting beaten up, and it allows you to teleport out of a shop. High level characters with teleportation sickness are able to teleport at will (ctrl-T, I think).
  • If your character is low level/unintelligent, try to find some spellbooks.  Reading a spellbook that is too complex for you will sometimes cause you to experience a wrenching sensation which teleports you to somewhere else on the level.
  • If you still don't have teleportation ability and are desperate to rob the shop, you can risk it by walking into the shop, picking up a bunch of objects, and hoping that one of them will give you teleportation. This is a big, last-ditch gamble, but it has worked for me [about half the time].

Once you are in the shop and have teleportation ability, then:

  • Grab whatever loot you want (as quickly as possible if you have teleportation sickness which might trigger at any moment)
  • When you are ready, teleport out of there by reading the scroll, zapping the wand at yourself, casting the spell, putting on the ring/amulet (and waiting) or killing time until the teleportation sickness kicks in.

The mad dash...

  • Once you are out of the shop, make a bee-line for the staircase down.
  • If the shopkeeper leaves the store to find you, avoid him at all costs.  Unless you are a very high level character, he will kick your butt.
  • The Keystone Kops that pop up when you escape are pretty wimpy, but they slow down your sprint to the stairs by crowding around you and blinding you with pies.

Teleportation has some inherent risks that other forms of escaping don't.

  • You could teleport to another location within the stop.  If that was your one teleportation use, you're screwed.  You'll have to drop all your unpaid items (assuming you haven't used any) or you can always commit suicide by attacking the shopkeeper. :)
  • You might teleport to a location close to the shop or far away from the stairs.  This makes your mad dash for the stairs harder.  If the shopkeeper catches you before you reach them, you're dead.
  • You might teleport into a nest of particularly nasty monsters.   This is always a risk of using teleportation, and not unique to shoplifting.

on making teleportation safer:

  • Teleport to a new level if at all possible.   This way you avoid the Keystone Kops and angry shopkeeper.  Just hope that the new level is deeper than the current one so you don't have to pass through here!
  • Find and wear a ring of teleportation control.   This will let you detemine the location to which you'll teleport.  This is a very useful item (almost as cool as polymorph control).

4. Digging your way out

If you can't teleport, you can try digging.   This is harder to pull off than teleporting because shops and shopkeeprs have evolved over the different versions of NetHack to protect themselves specifically against thelf-by-digging.  It's been a long time since I escaped by digging, but I'm pretty sure it can still be done...

First, you need to get a digging implement:

  • wand of digging
  • pickaxe
  • spell of digging (does this exist?)
  • scroll of digging (???)

Sneak the implement inside the shop (or just walk in if you have some sort of digging ability)

  • In old versions of NetHack I was able to throw a pickaxe through the door, but I don't think this works anymore.
  • You might be luck and find an implement inside the store [like in a tool shop]
  • You might be able to put the implement in a bag or similar container and sneak it in that way, but I'm not sure this will work.

If you manage to find yourself in a shop with a digging implement, then:

  • Grab whatever loot you want.
  • Dig a hole into the floor and jump through. This may or may not work; I recall shopkeepers snatching my backpack from me as I fell through the hole...
  • Alternatively, try digging through a wall.  I think shopkeepers have the ability to fix holes in the wall faster than you can dig them, so this also might not work.

5. Neutralizing the shopkeeper

As a last resort, you can try to kill, trivialize, or immobilize the shopkeeper long enough for you to slip past him. This is seldom easy.

  • If you have a wand of polymorph, you can zap the shopkeeper and hope he turns into something wimpy which you can kill or ignore. He will get made when you zap him, so either you'll escape or you'll die.
  • You could also try to zap the shopkeeper with a wand of teleport. Again, this will make him mad, and you will have to make a rush for the stairs, hoping he doesn't get to you first...
  • If you drink a potion of invisibility, the shopkeeper will stand directly in front of the door.  This means you can pelt him with missiles and spells from a distance.  If you run out of ammo, you better pray you can utilize a backup plan before the invisibility wears off.
  • A ring of invisibility is even better [because it doesn't wear off], but shopkeepers won't let you in their store with one.  I don't remember if you have to be carrying one or wearing one for a shopkeeper to bar your entrance.

If you can't neutralize the shopkeeper from a distance, then prepare for a hard and most likely short fight.

  • Try to become fast and lucky.
  • Try to slow the shopkeeper down with a wand or spell.
  • Cross your fingers and get ready to pray.

Yes, I've killed shopkeepers before, when I had really high level characters, but 99% of the time when I attack a shopkeeper I end up getting slaughtered. Be forewarned!

Even if you die, it's not the end of the world, because future characters can come along and grab your items (if this becomes a bones level).

  • Try to die somewhere outside of the shop.   This way, future characters won't have to pay for the items.
  • Drop as many items as you can (including wielded/worn items) before you die.  This reduces [or maybe even eliminates] the chance of those items being cursed.
  • Jonathan Nieder has informed me that in old versions of Hack, shopkeepers will continue to chase the character who stole from them (who is now a ghost).  This means tha subsequent characters can "just walk into the shop and take out whatever you want."  We don't know if this still works.

6. Other ways

There are probably other ways to rob shops that I haven't mentioned here.

If you know of one [or more], please let me know so that I can add it to the site.  Thanks!

This page managed by Last modified: 11 February 1999

Note: these are fan pages and not to be considered "official" or "authorized!"